Friday, April 09, 2004

More Federalism Worries for Iraq 

The New Republic has an interesting article today by Soner Cagaptay (which I think is only available to subscribers) about the facts on the ground in Kurd-dominated northern Iraq:
[O]ne might be tempted to conclude that the Kurdish north is the only area of Iraq immune from the repercussions of this past week's anti-American revolt.

But that is far from true. Indeed, there is reason to fear that the effects of the Sunni and Shia uprising will be felt in northern Iraq, with potentially disastrous consequences. To understand why, one has to remember that Iraqi Kurdistan--while enjoying both a higher level of freedom and a higher standard of living than just about anywhere else in Iraq--is a deeply divided place. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) controls the western part of the region and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) controls the east. The differences between the KDP and the PUK are deep-rooted. In the 1990s, the two parties fought a bitter civil war. When the United States intervened to broker a ceasefire, the KDP and the PUK agreed to stop fighting, but they also split up northern Iraq into two cantons and exchanged populations. As if they belonged to alien ethnic communities, KDP members in PUK areas left for the KDP zone, and PUK members in KDP areas left for the PUK zone. Though this split is largely ignored by the mainstream press these days, it appears to be growing wider. And there is now reason to believe that the past week's events to the south will drive the KDP and PUK further apart, which would represent a major blow against the already tenuous dream of a federal Iraq.
The author goes on to argue that the KDP, which is both relatively well-off and economically independent from the rest of Iraq, may be considering a separatist, pan-Kurdish strategy, and speculates that this strategy will seem more attractive the worse the chaos in the rest of the country becomes. It's a worrisome scenario, and one I hope the CPA is addressing, rather than seeing Kurdish Iraq as an undifferentiated unitary actor.

Incidentally, the source of the KDP's wealth is its control of the border crossing between Turkey and Iraq. Presumably there is some potential for US leverage here. On the other hand, the relatively pro-federal-Iraq PUK controls Kirkuk and its oil, as well as the border with Iran, which it has apparently kept shut. One might think that by Cagaptay's logic, we should be more worried about the PUK choosing to chart its own course.

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